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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

NaNo or Not, Here You Go!

An ordinary object can create magic in your story

Whether you’re gearing up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), writing fiction in a more conventional timeframe, writing memoir or even poetry, you’re going to love the way this exercise generates ideas, images and words!

Step 1. Find a new-to-you object. If you’re in a writer’s group, each member can bring a couple of objects and everyone can select an object someone else brought. Or you can browse a thrift shop or rummage sale or ask a friend to lend you a randomly selected object.

Step 2. Give the object to one of your characters.

Step 3. From that character’s point of view, describe the object.

If you go no further with the object, it will only be a throw-away, something that could be deleted from the story without consequence. You need to make the object significant to the story. Here’s one way to do that.

Step 4. Assume someone – your character or another person – committed a crime with, for or because of this object. For our purposes, a “crime” could be an illegal act or a serious wrong that isn’t technically illegal, but is immoral or unethical.

Step 5. Freewrite in response to the following questions.

Note: You won’t use all of what you discover in the freewrites in your draft, but answering the questions will imbue the object with meaning and significance that will inform the plot of your story and give your characters greater depth. For a remarkable example of how objects can drive plot and characters, read Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos, but not before you answer these questions:

  • What was the original crime? Have other crimes been committed to hide the first?
  • Who committed the crime? Who aided and abetted?
  • Who else knows about the crime?
  • If your character committed the crime, when will s/he see the full ramifications of her/his actions?
  • If your character didn’t commit the crime, does s/he know about the crime? If yes, when did your character find out? If no, when will your character find out about the crime?
  • How do the object and the crime it represents affect your character? What will your character do about how s/he feels?
  • Briefly, what is the object’s provenance: Where was it made, who made it, where has it traveled, who has possessed the object, what happened to it before the crime, what happened to it since the crime?
  • Does your character want to hold onto the object or get rid of it? If your character wants to get rid of it, does s/he want to destroy it, hide it, or give it to someone else?
  • What other characters want to acquire or get rid of the object?
  • Who or what will assist your character in doing what s/he wants to do with the object?
  • Who or what will hinder your character in doing what s/he wants to do with the object?

We’ll use a variation of this object exercise and other discovery exercises in my Spontaneous Fiction class. Doing NaNo or not, you’re welcome to join me in playing with fun and fruitful ways to generate fiction.

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